In which Emily gets cleared for lift-off

Greetings concerned citizens!

Thanks for tuning back in for the next chapter in the bizarre story of my life. When we last left it, I had been medically separated, looking at five more months stateside in order to finish my course of medication. Medical clearance took longer than expected (however this delay itself was expected, so there you go) and now, after one month of Medevac and six months of Medically Separated, RPCV civilian life, I have been cleared, reinstated, and am on my way back to the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. I leave on Tuesday morning for two days of travel, after which I will have to swear-in, then head back to the ranch at my old site.

I am overjoyed that my host organization is willing to take me back, that I am able to resume my service, and that all this waiting around will now pay off. Multiple people have expressed surprise that I am still going back, after so much time has passed. The things is, the longer the wait got, the more urgent it was that I do go back. Otherwise, the five months I spent of preparation in country, plus the subsequent seven months of healing/waiting around would have been for nothing. Maybe not exactly nothing, but far short of the goals I set for my PC service. Although I am technically an official RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer), it feels fraudulent to call myself one when my time at site totaled to a mere handful of weeks and zero projects completed. In short, the past year is meaningful only if included in a longer narrative in which I return and build on the foundation made last year.

If I wasn’t going to return to Lesotho after being Med-Sepped, I would have made different moves from the get-go in December, tossing in the veritable towel and moving on. I have post-Peace Corps goals, namely law school, that will now themselves be delayed with this delay in my PC service. But I went in to PC with more than an inkling to do good. I did and do hold the conviction that serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer is a foundation that I will build the rest of my career on. It is a life-long dream, and, honestly, I am a very stubborn person. There was no question in my mind that I would reinstate in December, and there has been no question in my mind since.

That is not to say that it has been easy. It is difficult to convey how frustrating it has been, trying to plan my life when I had no inkling of how much time I would have left until my return to Lesotho. That, plus there was zero guidance from any quarter. I scoured the internet looking for an RPCV with a story like mine. None presented themselves. The doctors I saw thought I was in America on vacation when I saw them in November, and when I went for follow-ups in the spring they thought that I had gone back to Lesotho in the meantime. PC HQ was surprised when I told them I had gotten a job during my separation. I wouldn’t hear from the Office of Medical Services for weeks at a time, then they would send me instructions for tasks I had already completed. I struggled to get hired with a sketchy resume and vague plans for the future. I watched as my training group has gone through the steps of service, achievements and challenges alike, vacations, trainings, accomplishments of all kinds, while I tread water in my parent’s basement. It’s very possible that the most difficult part of my service will be the months I spent not in service.

I consider myself lucky, though. When I was sick, I had a wonderful home to return to, and health insurance to pay for the care I needed. In the end, I was medically cleared. I am beyond excited to return and get going with the team at my host org. And I have a new appreciation for how unpredictable life is, how important it is to take opportunities when they are presented, and what a privilege it is to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. However frustrating it has been working within the bureaucracy of Peace Corps, they offer the chance to have a truly unique and beneficial perspective on the world.

That’s all I’ll bombard you with for now. Next time I write, I’ll be in Africa!

In which Emily gets medevaced

Medevac is short for Medical Evacuation. I am currently on medevac due to bilateral pulmonary emboli. For those of you who aren’t doctors, a CT-scan found a couple of blood clots in my lungs. After getting pneumonia twice in a row the astute Peace Corps Medical Officers who act as our in-service doctors ordered a scan of my lungs to see what was up. Lo, blood clots. After a strange week of being hospitalized in Bloemfontein, then Maseru, I was informed that pulmonary embolism requires medevac and that I would be taking an unexpected journey back home. After returning to site for a few days to pack up my things (and attend a delightful Halloween soiree with some PCVs), I hopped on a 17-hour flight direct from Joburg to Atlanta, then on home to La Guardia. Since I’m from an area with sufficiently close medical care, PC allowed me to medevac to my “home of record” in good ol’ Essex, CT. The past few weeks have been spent visiting a variety of specialists to understand why exactly I got these blood clots, as a 23-year old non-smoker with no family history of heart disease or blood disorders. The American doctors came to the same conclusion that the Bloem doctor did, which is that I am more sensitive to estrogen than most women, so the combination of taking birth control pills with the long flight over to Lesotho in June caused clots to form in my legs which over time floated into my lungs, subsequently making them vulnerable to infection like pneumonia. What is strange is that being in Lesotho really had nothing to do with my illness, it was just a converging of circumstances that ended in me being sent home.

The only symptoms I experienced other than a slight decrease in lung capacity were from the bouts of pneumonia, so I was not in any pain or discomfort throughout the hospitalizations or medevac.  The treatment is to a) permanently avoid clotting risk-factors like smoking, taking any form of hormones, or sitting down for extended car trips or plane rides (inconvenient but simple enough) and b) after having a blood clot one has to take blood thinning medication (anticoagulants) for an extended period of time in order to assure that it does not happen again. I have been prescribed a fairly new drug that as I understand is much easier to be on than the traditional stuff and will be taking it for a total of six months. So what next? The kicker is that convenient as this new drug is, and healthy as I feel, PC will not be able to clear me to return until I am off the blood thinner. Blood thinners do just what the name says, so I get to wear a cool Medic-Alert bracelet because I bleed/bruise more easily than I normally would. This means that if I get in a car accident, or some similar scenario, I will bleed quicker than normal and would need emergency care, again, quicker than normal. Unfortunately Lesotho does not have the emergency-response services that I would need as a person on anticoagulants. Medevac lasts maximum 45 days, so in a week and a half I will be Medically Separated. Medical Separation is a form of Early Termination, which in PC-speak means that my service will be ended early. Fortunately my medical status will change in less than a year which is within the time limit to ‘reinstate,’ meaning I can pick up where I left off in Lesotho without reapplying or going through training again. I will have to start my two years of service over, but I am fortunate in that I will most likely get to return to the same site and get going on the projects that my counterpart and I had only just started to work on when I left. If you’re like my mother and wondering a) am I mad at the Peace Corps? b) am I mad at birth control pills? c) am I really going back? d) am I a crazy person? then I can tell you that a) No, I understand the reason for my separation and agree that it would be risky, frustrating as it might be b) No, birth control pills are a wonderful thing and improve the quality of many lives for a variety of reasons, I am just unlucky in my body chemistry in this instance c) Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. If I’ve learned anything from my five months it’s been that Peace Corps is exactly what I’m supposed to do at this stage in my life, and I am not going to let this random hiccup take away what still is an amazing opportunity for me, and d) Ugh probably.

For now I’m looking for jobs, hoping to find something meaningful, productive, and income-earning to do during the next ~5 months. I probably won’t be blogging again until I’m at least on my way back to Lesotho (unless I get a demand of people hankering to hear about my job-search/unemployed life style), probably early May-ish. Thanks for reading thus far, and maybe I’ll see you around!

In which Emily dips out for a few weeks

I’ll admit I’ve been putting off updating because, well, so much has happened and I wasn’t quite sure where to start. We last left it at me settling in, slowly figuring out how to live and work at my new home in Mohale’s Hoek. About two weeks in, I started feeling poorly and went to see the PC doctor in Maseru. I was diagnosed with a lung infection and started taking antibiotics which started helping immediately. While I was in Maseru, there was a sort of-coup-type series of events described well here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/world/africa/lesotho-military-moves-on-police.html?_r=0. That Wednesday Peace Corps decided it would be best for all volunteers to wait for the situation to stabilize in South Africa. They brought us all to a really nice hotel where we experienced a sort of vacation-cum-imprisonment that we nick-named ‘consolication’ (consolidation being the technical lingo for our security status and vacation being the best way to describe how we spent our days mostly within the confines of the hotel). I was in recovery from my lung infection for most of it, but at least I got to recover in style. Finally it was determined that while the situation was not getting completely resolved, it was also not getting worse. That combined with the fact that in the villages where we live and serve no one is getting politically rambunctious and many aren’t even aware of the events that pretty much only effect Maseru meant we were allowed to triumphantly return to our sites. After assuring my host-nuns that I was happy to be back, that I was no longer sick, and that it is not typical for me to up and leave for weeks at a time with no notice, I set about re-settling-in.

Here is a recent Fox News article about the political situation as it stands now: http://www.myfoxla.com/story/26765597/lesotho-plans-elections-but-mood-is-unsettled

In which Emily does a lot of smiling and waving

Khotso!

This past Thursday marked my one-week anniversary at my site. Just like they say, there are lots of ups and downs. Ups include the first baby steps on a chicken-coop building project for my school and generally making my house a home. Downs include missing the other volunteers from my group, figuring out how to charge my phone, trying to get my desk in order, and spending a lot of time waiting around for my counterpart in my room. My room is right next to the schoolyard, so whenever I venture out I get a lot of stares and a few very enthusiastic “Hellohowareyooo?”s from the children running around. Next week I start teaching Life Skills to standards 5-7. Next time hope to report on how I hold up in front of a classroom!

 

In which Emily arrives in Lesotho

Here we go – my first blog post about Peace Corps! Apologies to anyone who has been checking for an update before now. Internet access is very limited here and I decided to stow away my laptop in the PC safe for most of training. But in any case, I will try to sum up the past 10 weeks succinctly and accurately. 

June 5 we arrived at the Maseru airport, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after 16 hours of flight-time. I’ve been staying with a host family consisting of a married couple, their 17-year-old daughter, and their 5-year-old granddaughter, learning Basotho ways and cultural norms, taking language classes, and spending a lot of time looking at mountains. Everywhere you look here is a postcard-worthy view of mountains and valleys. Every person you meet greets you, even if you don’t know them and wants to know where you’ve come from, where you live, what your name is, and where you’re going. Every animal is skin-and-bones and scared to let you touch it because little kids routinely throw rocks at dogs, donkeys, and cows alike. And every meal includes papa, the staple crop which basically is mashed potatoes made from corn.

Tomorrow we swear in, meaning I’ll be a full-fledged volunteer and not a mere trainee. There will be a ceremony that will be broadcast on Lesotho TV (although hardly anyone here has TV so I don’t know who will be watching) at which I have been asked to lead the volunteers in singing the Lesotho and American national anthems, so we’ll see how that goes.

A note about the post title: I’m currently reading Don Quixote, a book which at its essence is about a well-meaning individual who blunders through encounters with others in attempts to render them assistance. Despite the fact that Don Quixote is actually completely delusional, I often identify with him in my current situation. So I’ve decided to model my blog post titles after Cervantes’s inventive chapter titles. Enjoy!

Greetings! I’ve revamped my study-abroad blog to become my Peace Corps blog. And when I say revamp, I mean I changed the theme and the tagline. Re-branding can be a difficult process. Despite these considerable struggles, I am excited to announce that I leave for staging two weeks from today. Last Thursday was my last day of work, and I stopped by the Ford (Haverford College, my alma mater for those not in the know) last weekend for commencement to say goodbye to some friends. Now I embark on the easier-said-than-done task of packing up everything I need, packing up everything I want to store, and recycling/disposing of the rest. Wish me luck!

Vacances Part 7: Chamonix

After Florence we were northbound to France once more.  In the old days the Italian-French border had border stations at mountain-tops on roads that were summit passes. My dad told me a story of how once he was driving from Italy to Austria with a case full of wine in the trunk.  When he got to the border station, the customs officials looked in the trunk, and they saw that all of the corks of the bottles had popped, the wine frozen inside.  What ensued was a merry ski vacation I’m sure.  Anyway, such debacles no longer occur, as the summit roads have been replaced with tunnels that burrow straight through the mighty mountainsides.  Now, this traversal method has its own set of problems.  A few years ago there was a fire inside the tunnel we went through.  In order to prepare you for such a crisis, the Italian government has printed up some nifty pamphlets with graphics that supposedly tell you what to do in case of a fire.  I will be the first to say that the stick figures that dot the page, running every which way, some wearing triangular dresses, some not, some half the size of others, some trapped in what appears to be an 18-wheeler on fire, some brandishing fire extinguishers, some sprinting up stairs, do not provide the neat, easy-to-comprehend-to-speakers-of-any-language set of instructions that the author and distributors of the pamphlet think they do.  The tunnel is long, and I tried to keep my mind off of the millions of pounds of stony weight pressing down on the ceilings and walls by imagining Snow White dwarves mining out the tunnel with their little half-size pickaxes.  We made it through the tunnel, feeling more like we had escaped Italy than that we were regretfully departing it, which is closer to the truth.  By this point it was nearly time to stop for the night.  There was an amusing incident where my parents saw a sign for ‘Hotel de ville’ and said, “Oh great, a hotel!” and I got to smugly inform them that ‘Hotel’ can also mean ‘hall’ in French, and that they were looking to make a reservation for the night at the town hall.  The next day was one for the record books.  We took a cable car up from Chamonix, getting a taste of what is usually exclusively for the eyes and ears of mountaineers and extreme skiers.  Of course we got to share this experience with a Japanese tour group who had never seen snow before.  This was made apparent when they all started freaking out throwing it at each other when we exited the cable car station.  The summit was bitter cold, but the views were absolutely of a different planet.  There was one point on the ride up where the car went over a support pillar and then swung forward, knocking everyone over and making me think that I would never make it to 21, but the puny wire carried us through the blustery wind and snow to the top and back, no harm done.

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Here we are in lovely Chamonix-Mont Blanc!                         Me and my sweet skis. I’m really into plummeting down snowy cliffs now.

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Spectacular Snow                                                             One brave soul making the descent. I’d say he was crazy if I wasn’t so impressed

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Yes, I was as nervous and cold as I look                                                                                  Observer on the observation deck

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Asian tourists frolicking                                                                               Spotted: Cap’n Brown navigating the enthusiastic crowd

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Glorious

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Mont Blanc yet gleams on high: the power is there, The still and solemn power of many sights And many sounds, and much of life and death. In the long glare of day, the snows descend Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there, Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun, Or the sunbeams dart through them.”

– Percy Bysshe Shelley
Mont Blanc